This is a really big one for me. I find myself working with clients in mentoring mode, and often I think to myself “they need to have the conversation”.
Let me give you a couple of examples. On more than one occasion in recent months I’ve had a client who has come to me incredibly frustrated with their immediate boss or manager, and they’ve said that their manager doesn’t understand their priorities, or that they don’t ‘get’ their job.
And in one particular case, the individual came and was really upset because they had received a poor performance review. Now when I ask them about the conversation they had with their manager about their priorities and what was agreed, I generally am faced with something like “well we haven’t had that conversation”, or “we haven’t had that conversation recently”.
And in one instance, someone looked at me and got a bit embarrassed and started fidgeting in their seat because they were a really senior person and yet they hadn’t had the conversation with their boss about what the priorities were in their role, what they were going to deliver over the next 6 and 12 months.
It seems obvious that we need to have the conversation.
How can you agree and commit to expectations that haven’t been made clear?
Another example. I was working with a very senior executive assistant, and there were certain tasks that she really didn’t want to be doing for her boss. More of a personal nature, you know, going and picking up his dry-cleaning and things like that. And she was getting really annoyed and frustrated that he expected her to do those things and yet she hadn’t had the conversation.
There is so much miscommunication in the workplace. Misunderstandings, inconsistency in terms of knowing what the priorities are, being clear on what goals are, even knowing what’s going well and what’s not going well.
From my perspective this has to stop. We’ve got to take responsibility. We’ve got to step-up and own that space, because if we are not clear, then we need to get clear. And how do we do that? We have the conversation.
What makes it important? Well, over 86% of executives identify ineffective collaboration and communication as a major cause of failure in business. On the other hand we’ve got research that shows very clearly the links between having clear goals and objectives and the ability for people to perform at their best. (iOpener institute)
I mean, without that conversation, it’s a bit like trying to buy someone that you don’t know the perfect gift. You have no idea what they like. How can you possibly buy them the perfect gift? Yes you might fluke it, but it’s highly unlikely. So in a workplace you have to give yourself every opportunity to get it right, and as a leader you have to give your people every opportunity to get it right as well.
We want to avoid the mismatch of expectations, the assumptions that seem to grow like wildfire, the lack of informative feedback, because the impacts are too big. The impact on performance, on engagement, on the perception of leadership. Burn-out, stress, turnover, it’s too high. If it’s important enough to you, then you need to have the conversation.
How do you do that?
- You need to get clear about what you want from the conversation. What’s your positive intent and what makes it important to you to have the conversation?
- You need to agree the time and place with your boss if it’s your boss, with a colleague, with a team member, so you can get clear with them. So set the time and the place and the space aside.
- And then ask for their input about this topic, whatever that important topic is to you.
- A great question to help you with that is, very simply “What do you need from me in relation to…..?” Maybe it’s a goal, maybe it’s a project, maybe it’s how often and how a report is delivered.
- And then on the flip-side you can offer to them what you need from them. So, “What I need from you is”, and now we’re both clear. We can both deliver. We can have a conversation about where we can meet the expectations and where not. There are no surprises.
Clarity and shared understanding is fundamental to being able to achieve our individual, our team and our organisational goals, and as a leader we’ve got a responsibility to make sure that that is in place.
So what conversation do you need to have?